Nonfiction Paperbacks

The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World’s MOst Perplexing Cold Cases
Michael Capuzzo

Despite journalist Capuzzo’s obvious reverence for the crime fighters he profiles, his account of the formation of the legendary Vidocq Society is as scattered as many of the cold case files they wade through. Based in Philadelphia, the Vidocq Society was the brainchild of three wildly different men brought together by their desire to speak for the dead: freewheeling exboxer turned forensic sculptor Frank Bender; FBI and U.S. Customs agent William Fleisher; and pre-eminent forensic psychologist and profiler Richard Walter. What began as an informal meeting of colleagues in 1990 evolved into an expansive international think tank of sorts modeled and named after France’s famed criminal-turned-sleuth Eugène Vidocq, a model for Sherlock Holmes. The cases—ranging from Philadelphia’s long-festering “Boy in the Box” murder to the “Butcher of Cleveland,” a serial killer who taunted Elliot Ness in the 1930s—are fascinating, but Capuzzo (Close to Shore) loses much of his narrative momentum by abruptly shifting between the founding members’ individual backstories and homicides the society investigates. Yet there is no denying that the 82 “VSMs”(Vidocq Society Member) do an immeasurable service in the name of justice.

Colonelt Roosevelt: Theodore Roosevelt Goes to War, 1897-1898
H. Paul Jeffers 

The man who likened himself to a “”bull moose,”” says Jeffers in this sturdy second installment (after Commissioner Roosevelt, 1994) of his multivolume popular biography of the 26th president, intended to be elected chief executive in 1904. As it happened, the assassination of William McKinley carried Roosevelt into the White House in 1901. But if Roosevelt’s schedule was off, Jeffers convincingly explains, his aim wasn’t. Roosevelt emerged from the Spanish-American War with the White House right in his sights. Jeffers is most effective in describing Roosevelt’s role in organizing and leading the Rough Riders, but he exaggerates his subject’s role in the origin of the war that made this cavalry division famous. Relying heavily on Roosevelt’s own accounts, he misses the fact that, as Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt was widely regarded in the McKinley administration as a loose cannon, respected for his energy but not for his ideas. Still, this is a handsome narrative of a crucial period in the career of one of our country’s most colorful politicians.

Everyone Loves You When You Are Dead
Neil Strauss

Journalist Strauss, who has coauthored books with the band members of Mötley Crüe (The Dirt) and porn superstar Jenna Jameson (How to Make Love Like a Porn Star) now offers a terrific look at the dysfunctional livelihoods of stardom, a theme based on his many interviews for various publications. Strauss went back to his original interview tapes and notes in search of moments—mostly unpublished—that reveal “the truth or essence of each person, story, or experience.” He liberally and ingeniously cuts back and forth between scenes, such as pairing the youthful, arrogant claims of Oasis that the band could have been the Beatles in the 1960s with the tortured feeling of the Who’s aging leader Pete Townshend (“All we can do in the future is look back”). In other instances, he shows the self-doubt shared by Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner and actor Orlando Bloom. But the best moments come when Strauss has earned such trust of his subjects that he becomes part of some very weird scenes, all of which are presented in all their often hilarious detail: shooting guns with Ludacris, getting kidnapped by Courtney Love, making Lady Gaga cry, and shopping for Pampers with Snoop Dogg.

The Hare with Amber Eyes
Edmund de Waal

In this family history, de Waal, a potter and curator of ceramics at the Victoria & Albert Museum, describes the experiences of his family, the Ephrussis, during the turmoil of the 20th century. Grain merchants in Odessa, various family members migrated to Vienna and Paris, becoming successful bankers. Secular Jews, they sought assimilation in a period of virulent anti-Semitism. In Paris, Charles Ephrussi purchased a large collection of Japanese netsuke, tiny hand-carved figures including a hare with amber eyes. The collection passed to Viktor Ephrussi in Vienna and became the family’s greatest legacy. Loyal citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Vienna Ephrussis were devastated by the outcome of WWI and were later driven from their home by the imposition of Nazi rule over Austria. After WWII, they discovered that their maid, Anna, had preserved the netsuke collection, which Ignace Ephrussi inherited, and he settled in postwar Japan. Today, the netsuke reside with de Waal (descended from the family’s Vienna branch) and serve as the embodiment of his family history. A somewhat rambling narrative with special appeal to art historians, this account is nonetheless rich in drama and valuable anecdote. 20 b&w illus.

Loon: A Marine Story
Jack McLean

McLean’s debut is a perceptive memoir of the Vietnam war that is unique for the author’s background: McLean joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Phillips Academy, where George W. Bush was a classmate. Making excellent use of more than a hundred letters he wrote home from the war zone from November 1967 to July 1968, McLean reconstructs his time in the Marines with a sharp eye for detail and very readable—at times almost poetic—prose. McLean underwent a hellish tour of duty and in the fall of 1968 became the first Vietnam veteran to enter Harvard. He uses a good deal of reconstructed dialogue to tell his war story, a technique that in lesser hands only cheapens a memoir. But virtually all of McLean’s dialogue rings true, as does nearly everything else in the book. That includes this passage in which McLean remembers his baptism under fire a few days after he arrived in Vietnam: “It had been eerie, frightening, invigorating, chaotic, and surreal. Welcome to combat. It was not like the movies.”

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.


 

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About thecompleatbookseller

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Posted on December 13, 2011, in Authors, Book Review, Non-Fiction, Paperback. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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